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Law School Case Brief

People v. Chevalier - 131 Ill. 2d 66, 136 Ill. Dec. 167, 544 N.E.2d 942 (1989)

Rule:

In Illinois, adultery with a spouse as provocation for voluntary manslaughter generally has been limited to those instances where the parties are discovered in the act of adultery or immediately before or after such an act, and the killing immediately follows such discovery. A verbal communication that adultery has occurred or will occur falls within the rule that mere words are insufficient provocation.

Facts:

This involved two consolidated cases of defendants shooting and killing their respective wives because of suspected marital infidelity. Just prior to the killing,  defendant and the victim had an argument, during which the victim admitting to committing adultery and either disparaged the defendant’s sexual abilities (in People v. Chevalier) or flaunted the fact that she slept with her lover in the marital bed (in People v. Flores). The victims were shot during these arguments. During Flores' trial, an attorney whom the victim had consulted about a divorce testified for the State. The attorney Griffin testified that the victim told Griffin that defendant had threatened her. The trial court instructed the jury that this testimony was admissible only to show the declarant's state of mind and not the truth of the assertion. Four other witnesses, all relatives of the victim, also testified to threats made by the defendant. In People v. Flores, the trial court refused to give defendant's tendered jury instruction on the offense of voluntary manslaughter. In People v. Chevalier, although the trial court instructed the jury on voluntary manslaughter, defendant contended that the instruction was erroneous. The trial court convicted defendants for murder but the appellate court reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. The state appealed, arguing that the appellate court’s reversal and remand for a new trial was erroneous. The state claimed that provocation by defendants’ victims was not legally adequate to reduce defendants’ convictions from murder to voluntary slaughter.

Issue:

Were the provocations of the defendants’ victims legally adequate to reduce defendants’ convictions from murder to voluntary slaughter?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court reversed and reinstated the murder convictions and held that in a murder trial, a confession of adultery by a spouse was not legally adequate provocation to justify a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. Only the discovery of the parties in the act of adultery, or immediately before or after the act, will suffice as provocation

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